The spacecraft that NASA hopes to one day send to Mars is cooling its heels on the Cape Canaveral launchpad this morning, its maiden voyage delayed by gusts of wind and leaky valves, reports the AP. NASA says it needs more time to address the valve issues, but the Orion space capsule could blast off tomorrow. It was to launch on a short, unmanned test mission that the Atlantic says will include a "rigorous training gauntlet not seen since the Apollo moon-landing era," including traveling 3,600 miles above Earth, passing through a thick belt of cosmic radiation, and experiencing temperatures up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on a fast fall to Earth. "This is huge," says NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.
One vital test will be that of the radiation shielding. "We're going to be flying through parts of the Van Allen radiation belts, since we're 15 times higher than the space station," the Orion program chief says. "The ISS would not have to deal with radiation, but we will, and so will every vehicle that goes to the moon. That's a big issue for the computers. These processors that are now so small—they're great for speed but they're more susceptible to radiation." But even if the mission is a complete success, a Mars trip won't happen for many years, NPR reports. Because of budget limitations, the next test flight isn't scheduled until 2018, and Orion's first launch with a crew will probably be a mission to an asteroid some time in the 2020s. (Read more NASA stories.)